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Bush Institute Announces First Recipients of North Korea Freedom Scholarship

$25,000 in funds awarded to eight North Korean escapees to pursue higher education

July 26, 2017

The George W. Bush Institute today announced the first eight recipients of the North Korea Freedom Scholarship, designed to help North Korean escapees pursue higher education and build productive, prosperous lives as new Americans.

Administered by Communities Foundation of Texas, the scholarships, which together total $25,000, will support escapees in pursuing a range of educational opportunities at a variety of post-secondary institutions, including traditional four-year university programs, community colleges, and trade and vocational schools.

Recipients include:

  • O.S.H., who is studying theology.
  • J.J., a student at a community college in Florida.
  • Minhee Grace Jo, a community college student in Maryland who hopes to become a dentist.
  • L.K., currently a student at a community college in Illinois who plans to study political science.
  • Joseph Kim, a junior in political studies at a university in New York.
  • H.P., a community college student in Utah who plans to study medicine.
  • Hyang Seo, a recent high school graduate in Kentucky who plans to study engineering in college.
  • Justin Seo, currently studying IT at a community college in New York.

Many North Korean escapees continue to live in fear, even after becoming permanent residents or citizens of the United States.  In North Korea, leaving the country without permission is a crime, and violators and their immediate relatives may face imprisonment or punishment.  For that reason, some of the scholarship recipients ask that their identities or whereabouts remain confidential.

The scholarship is part of a broader effort by the Bush Institute focused on North Korea to help expose the suffering of the North Korean people and put their stories on the radar of policy makers and opinion leaders.  The work has included call-to-action papers to define a new path forward in improving the human condition in North Korea, as well as original research and opinion polling of North Korean refugees who have resettled in America.

“When we asked them about their dreams and goals, many spoke of their desire to improve themselves through education,” said Mrs. Laura Bush at the announcement of the scholarship last November. “At the Bush Center, we want to help these refugees on their path to success.”

To help the community become a prosperous and productive part of American society, the Bush Institute partnered with leaders in the Korean-American community across the United States to raise money for a scholarship and mentoring program and began working with Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) to set up and manage the fund. From February through April, prospective students were able to apply through CFT’s website. 

Twenty students applied for grants in the first year and eight were awarded scholarships of various amounts based on needs. A committee was established to review applications and recommend awards.  Committee members included:

  • Sheena Greitens – Assistant Professor, University of Missouri; Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Jefferson City, MO
  • Dan Ha – Partner, Lagoda Investment Management, L.P.; New York, NY
  • Jensen Ko – Chief Operating Officer, Archegos Capital; New York, NY
  • Sarah Cotton Nelson – Chief Philanthropy Officer, Communities Foundation of Texas; Dallas, TX
  • Michelle Rhyu – Partner, Cooley LLP; Palo Alto, CA
  • Amanda Schnetzer – Director, Global Initiatives, George W. Bush Institute; Dallas, TX
  • Anne Wicks – Director, Education Reform and Leadership Programs, Bush Institute; Dallas, TX

Applications will open for 2018 scholarships in January.

For more information about the scholarship and the Bush Institute’s efforts to support escapees and improve the human condition in North Korea, please visit http://www.bushcenter.org/explore-our-work/fostering-policy/promoting--freedom-in-north-korea.html. For more information about Communities Foundation of Texas, please visit www.cftexas.org.